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Study: U.S. can’t keep up with loss of its wetlands

Over a four-year span, the United States lost more than 360,000 acres of freshwater and saltwater wetlands to fierce storms, sea-level rise and booming development along the coasts, according to a newly released federal study.

The disappearance of so much grass and forest marsh on the edge of waterways is a disturbing sign that government projects to restore wetlands are failing to keep pace, environmentalists said, as storms intensify, the sea level creeps up and development paves the way for rising coastal populations.

Saltwater wetlands help buffer sea surges that cause flooding during powerful storms along the coasts –such as Hurricane Sandy last year – and freshwater wetlands soak up storm-water runoff that often causes sewers to overflow.

They also serve as nurseries for numerous species of fish and assorted marine life, while providing habitat for three-quarters of the nation’s waterfowl and migrating birds. Nearly half of endangered species depend on them to live.

“They are getting it from all directions,” said Tom Dahl, lead author of the study funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Study areas include the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the Great Lakes and other fresh inland waters.

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